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The Problem-Solving Electronic Toys You Want Your Kids To Play With

LittleBits, the blinking modular electronic Lego for 21st-century builders, were created to be fun—but also to bridge a major educational gap. Here's the bigger idea that inspired their founder.

The average consumer may look at littleBits and see an especially clever toy—a Lego for 21st-century builders. Closer inspection reveals a savvy startup with a grand plan: an open-source hardware think tank that plans to democratize the world’s understanding of electronic circuitry. You know, kid stuff.

Ayah Bdeir is the young Lebanese-Canadian engineer/mastermind behind the project. After attending MIT Media Lab, she received two prestigious fellowships with Creative Commons and the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York City. Bdeir then became an instructor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and threw in a TED Fellowship just for good measure. Bdeir started putting the pieces together for littleBits in 2009, earning a blue ribbon at that year’s Maker Faire and positioning the company—which now has $4.5 million in venture funding—at the forefront of a growing movement to get kids and amateurs learning about hardware design.

Ayah Bdeir

Bdeir never intended to be a toymaker, but littleBits turned out to be a perfect means to an end. "We want to encourage a world of creators, of inventors, of contributors," said Bdeir in her 2012 TED Talk, highlighting the fact that very few people actually understand how the tools of our modern lives function. Children—and curious adults—all over the world can now use her modular magnetic building blocks to create complex devices and study how the electronics that dictate everyday life actually operate.

Although littleBits blocks are endlessly entertaining, Bdeir is proud to point out that her company was not the brainchild of executives in a conference room.

"The...problem I was obsessed with solving is how to make electronics fun and accessible in an industry that is typically reserved for experts," Bdeir told Fast Company.

Bottom Line: The best reason to create something is to find answers to a problem you're obsessed with solving.

Video produced by Shalini Sharma // Camera & Edit by Tony Ditata